Mamaroneck Aims To Revise Flood Damage Law

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Mamaroneck Village Manager Richard Slingerland and Assistant Village Manager Dan Sarnoff sit at Town Hall, where a FEMA flood map of Mamaroneck stays on the wall. Photo Credit: Laurie Lawless
Howard Avenue homeowner Keith Wizar and Jim Killoran, executive director for Westchester County Habitat for Humanity, became close friends while rebuilding the neighborhood after floods in 2007 and 2011. Photo Credit: Laurie Lawless

MAMARONECK, N.Y. – More than 50 concerned Mamaroneck residents came to a recent town meeting confused about local flood mitigation laws and how they were affected by them, specifically Chapter 186-2 of the Mamaroneck village code.

The 2007 code addresses structures in the various flood zones in Mamaroneck and could require homeowners and businesses to raise their buildings above the "base flood" level under certain circumstances. This is the part that baffles property owners: How are they supposed to afford to raise their homes and businesses, and why is the local government able to tell them what to do with their properties?

"We have zoning laws that define how properties can be used and local laws, including laws that restrict water use for sprinklers," Assistant Village Manager Dan Sarnoff said. "It's basic land-use laws."

Sarnoff said the village participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, which allows residents to receive a reduction in flood insurance premiums – an important component for any resident or business owner in the village.

In 2007, the Federal Emergency Management Agency updated its flood maps, including its map for Mamaroneck. FEMA declared that areas most prone to flooding, such as Howard Avenue, First Street, Washington Street, Soundview Drive and James Street, among others, had to have stricter flood damage prevention laws to maintain eligibility for the insurance program.

FEMA also has a program called the Community Rating System which awards points on a 1-9 scale to municipalities for such things as holding community education events, making flood prevention information available, tracking flood complaints and making flood zone laws stricter, Sarnoff said. The more points a municipality has, the lower the insurance rates get for the residents.

To comply with FEMA’s requirements, and to try to gain rating points, the village amended some of its laws in 2007 to be stricter about flood area structures, making it a requirement to raise a structure if a certain amount of substantial improvement was done or damage happened over a period of time.

“We believe this language was inserted to gain additional points toward a CRS rating, but what wound up happening, by looking at the human impacts of this, it would be most felt by the people who could afford it the least,” Sarnoff said. “It ended up having a regressive impact. It was created out of good intentions, to make it a flood-safe area, but now we see it could have a potentially bad impact on community members.”

Although the village is not looking to remove any of the current flood mitigation laws, a public hearing is set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4, about eliminating the terms “cumulative substantial improvement” and “cumulative substantial damage” from the village code. The word "cumulative," according to officials, leaves property owners in a bad position if their structure is improved or damaged significantly over a 10-year period.

The Board of Trustees is looking to revise the code in the near future and wants input from village residents and business owners.

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